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Bengals' Dalton better since coach's challenge

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Bengals' Dalton better since coach's challenge

CINCINNATI (AP) Andy Dalton's demeanor hasn't changed since coach Marvin Lewis challenged him to become more of a leader, even if it meant going against his character and being a jerk sometimes.

The quarterback's numbers, though, have gotten much better.

The Bengals have won three of the four games since Lewis publicly challenged Dalton to lead the offense and middle linebacker Rey Maualuga to take charge of the defense. Cincinnati has won three in a row by at least 18 points - its best streak of blowouts since 1976 - and the two players have given their finest performances.

Lewis considers his unusual challenge a success.

``Their play is hopefully a byproduct of the reinforcement of their abilities that I gave them, the empowerment of their abilities, and the `at-a-boys' to move forward but take control of it all,'' Lewis said.

The Bengals (6-5) are tied with Pittsburgh for the final AFC wild card berth heading into a game Sunday at San Diego (4-7).

In the four games since Lewis put him on the spot, Dalton has improved his performance significantly. He threw for 13 touchdowns and 10 interceptions in the first seven games, a passer rating of 87.7 that would be slightly better than average.

Since Lewis' challenge, he has completed 62 percent of his passes with 10 touchdowns, only one interception and a 105.7 passer rating. His personality is the same, but the numbers are much different.

``You know what? I don't see Andy as a changed player,'' offensive coordinator Jay Gruden said. ``I think Andy is always going to be Andy. He's going to lead by example and he's a very competitive guy, but he's not a very vocal guy. He's not the type of guy that's going to yell at guys for screwing up. He's going to try to correct guys.

``But I just think his sense of urgency has picked up a little bit. He knew he had to play better for us to win, and he's picked up his game considerably.''

So has Maualuga, who was often out of place early in the season. He's become more dependable during the three-game winning streak, during which Cincinnati has allowed only 13, 6 and 10 points.

The two of them have been so good that Lewis has rewarded them with official ``captain'' designations. After calling on them to lead, he started sending them out as captains for the coin flip before each game. He decided to give them a small ``C'' on the front of their uniforms before a 34-10 win over Oakland on Sunday.

Lewis didn't tell them about the designation before they arrived for the game.

``It just came to me one morning running that I should go ahead and put the C's on their jerseys and make it known that way and continue to empower them to do the things I've asked them to do,'' said Lewis, who hadn't designated anyone a captain in two years.

Both players were surprised to see the small letter on the front of their jerseys when they showed up for the game.

``I usually grab my shoulder pads, put them on the ground, get all my clothes lined up, see what I'm going to wear,'' Maualuga said. ``Then I saw it. I took a second to sit there. I don't know - I was in awe. It was sort of like a blessing and an honor. But you've got to put that jersey on and make sure you go out there and lead and do your part.''

Dalton didn't see it coming, either.

``I've been a captain everywhere I've been,'' Dalton said. ``To earn that and get the respect of the coaches and Marvin, it's definitely a cool thing.

``For me and Rey to have the `C' on the jersey, (Lewis) is saying, `These are the leaders of the team.' He challenged us a couple weeks ago and we've responded well. It's a good thing to show that and put the C's on our jerseys.''

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New pieces on offense lead to plenty of questions for Redskins at OTAs

New pieces on offense lead to plenty of questions for Redskins at OTAs

Alex Smith in, Kirk Cousins out.

That's certainly the headline, but there are plenty of other questions for the Redskins, particularly on the offensive side of the ball.

For the last two seasons, most of the questions going into OTAs for Washington came from the defensive side of the ball. After consecutive drafts with a first-round defensive lineman selection, the defense should be much improved. 

On offense, however, there are a lot of new parts. 

  1. The headliner - No position in sports is as important as NFL quarterback. This will be Alex Smith's first action in a Redskins uniform with media present. The 34-year-old veteran is coming off the best season of his career, and if he can continue that level of accuracy and play-making, the Redskins could be poised for an explosive year.
  2. The speedster - Washington's wideouts lacked separation in 2017. It was apparent through much of the year, and likely played a roll in some of Kirk Cousins' reluctance to make tough throws. Free agent addition Paul Richardson is supposed to help, immediately. He has elite deep speed and the 'Skins brass hopes he can bring a similar element to the offense that DeSean Jackson provided a few years back. Time to prove it Paul. 
  3. The injuries - There are big reasons for concern, namely two very large men in Jordan Reed and Trent Williams. Reed will not participate in OTAs, and has been dealing with a foot/toe injury for the better part of a year. Williams, who seems highly unlikely to attend OTAs, underwent knee surgery in January. Beyond Smith, Reed and Williams are probably the two most important offensive players on the Redskins. OTAs aren't important, Reed and Williams participating, or even attending, OTAs is not important. Both men being healthy and ready to go in September is quite important. 
  4. The Rookie - Has Derrius Guice become the most popular player on the Redskins? Maybe. The dynamic rookie running back, with an interesting draft weekend slide, has the charisma and ability to be a star. The "off-field concerns" that hurt his draft status seem like myths at this point, but there was some injury concern his junior season at LSU (see video above). Guice has an opportunity to be a huge part of the Redskins offense, and all eyes will be watching the rookie. 
  5. The leap? - In 2017, Josh Doctson showed flashes of the player that warranted a first-round pick in 2016. Will 2018 be the year he proves it, week after week, game after game? Getting off to a good start with Smith should help, and even more important would be an injury-free offseason. 

There are questions for the defense too, particularly at cornerback after Josh Norman, but this year, the offense has more new parts. 

MORE REDSKINS NEWS:

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Capitals Faceoff Podcast: A trip to the Stanley Cup Final is on the line

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Capitals Faceoff Podcast: A trip to the Stanley Cup Final is on the line

The Eastern Conference Final is going the distance!

After losing three straight to the Tampa Bay Lightning, the Capitals won Game 6 to force a Game 7 in Tampa Bay. Can the Caps beat the Lightning one more time and advance to the Stanley Cup Final?

JJ Regan, Tarik El-Bashir and special guest cameraman Mike D break it all down.

 

PLEASE NOTE: Due to schedule and time constraints, this podcast was recorded by phone and the audio quality is not up to our usual standards.

Check out their latest episode in the player below or listen on the Capitals Faceoff Podcast page.